It’s the weekend and I’m at home flipping through various Netflix movies to see if anything catches my eye when the picture of two teenage girls with warm smiles grabs my attention. “Somewhere Between,” directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, is a documentary about four Chinese girls living with American adoptive parents.
As I begin to watch the documentary, I realize that each and every one of the girls is experiencing an identity crisis in some way or another. Haley, Jenna, Ann, and Fang are teenagers living in a world where they don’t quite measure up in the eyes of everyone else and in their own eyes. When you are adopted it is hard not to question your past and to want to know more about your birth parents. Everyone around you knows you’re different, even if you don’t want to admit it. The girls wonder why they have been abandoned and they feel a compulsion to search for their birth parents.
Jenna attends school in New Hampshire; she plays the guitar and is on the JV Coxswain crew. She struggles to be “perfect” because rejection is her biggest fear as a result of being abandoned by her birth parents. Haley resides and receives home schooling in Tennessee and is deeply religious. She struggles with her identity and is intent on tracking down her birth parents. Ann lives in suburban Pennsylvania and is the only one who doesn’t have a desire to learn about her birth parents throughout the documentary. Fang, who was adopted at five years of age and speaks fluent Mandarin, lives in California. She sets out to find her birth parents and at the same time helps a young orphan find a home.
Language is a very important aspect of this documentary because those who share the same language can be brought closer while a language barrier can cause problems. When Haley tracks down her birth parents and meets them for the first time, an interpreter is present because Haley doesn’t speak Chinese. When sensitive questions are asked, the linguist interprets the answers in a non-threatening tone. When asked why Haley was abandoned, the mother’s answer is simple and straightforward: the family was too poor to afford another girl. However the interpreter doesn’t give Haley the same answer. Instead, she provides a sugar-coated version. I wish the interpreter had given Haley a straight answer instead of making excuses for the mother. The birth mother’s answer suggests that if Haley had been a boy, she may not have been given up for adoption.
Fang’s fluency in Mandarin facilitates the adoption of an abandoned orphan girl with cerebral palsy. They become close friends and she interacts with the orphan in Mandarin, the only language the orphan knows. Fang bridges the gap between the orphan and American surrogate parents because she is bilingual in both English and Chinese. My favorite part of the film is when the orphan is led by Fang to meet her surrogate parents for the first time and says, “Mama,” when told to do so by Fang. In the end, the orphan is sad to see Fang leave. However, I am sure she’ll thank her when she grows up and realizes how much Fang has done for her.
I highly recommend Somewhere Between as it is only an hour and a half, even though I wish it were longer because it was so captivating. As an immigrant, I really identify with the girls who alternate between feeling like insiders and outsiders in either of the two cultures.